Gabi Conti
June 19, 2014 3:40 pm

“Getting my hair cut, visiting my friend in rehab, and then recording my podcast.” I replied when a friend asked me what my plans were for that Saturday.

I buried, “visiting in my friend in rehab,” in there like it was another weekend activity, on par with getting a manicure or grabbing brunch. Hoping my friend wouldn’t question me. I’m pretty terrible at lying. While I didn’t divulge details of who I was visiting. (Is rehab anonymous like AA? Unclear).

My friend (who will remain nameless) suggested I write this piece and has read this before I posted it. I hope that my experience with my friend can serve as a comfort for you if you ever have to visit someone close to you in rehab. I had no idea what to expect last Saturday. There’s no “9 Things That Happen When You Visit Your Bestie in Rehab” on Buzzfeed.

I moved to Los Angeles in the age of Perez Hilton. When it felt like almost every day a different celebrity was seen partying at Les Deux one night and then shipping off to Promises in Malibu the next. It felt very LA as I was driving up the PCH on my way there. But there was nothing glamorous about my drive. I was nervous. No song, not even John Mayer could calm me down.

This was one of my best friends, after all. Before she left, she posted on Facebook about “unplugging” for a few weeks and if anyone needed anything they could contact me. I laughed out loud when I read her status, mostly because I never approved this, but I was happy to help.

I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect when I visited her. Would she be sedated? A zombie? This is a friend who is always a ball of energy. A girl who can talk to anyone about anything and always ends up being the center of attention (she can’t help it, she’s just that charismatic). We all knew she was having a tough time, and that her visit to rehab was inevitable. No, it wasn’t heroin or something scary like that. The details of what it was aren’t important. Cause no matter what your friend is in rehab for, you’re gonna go through those same emotions: It’s sudden. It’s unexpected. One minute you having a fun girls’ weekend, and the next your fighting with your boy and you want to text her for advice, but you can’t, because she’s in rehab.

Even saying it sounds weird. When people would ask me where she was, it didn’t feel right explaining where, “My friend? Uh…she’s out of town for three weeks.”

Driving to visit, I almost passed the center since it’s hidden up on a hill. The gate was open for visiting hours. As I approached the door, I didn’t know what to do. Do I knock? Ring the bell? How do doors work? I nervously rang the doorbell.

As I walked in, it felt like I was entering a cabin my friends rented in Big Bear for the weekend. Except instead of being handed a cold PBR upon arrival, a lady took my purse and rifled through it. I wondered if there was anything incriminating in there, even though I know there wasn’t. It’s like that feeling you get when you pass a cop car totally sober. Am I doing something wrong? Where do I put my hands? What is the speed limit again?

My friend introduced me to her new roommates. Some were sprawled out on the couch; others were smoking cigarettes outside. The staff shuffled by and I suddenly felt like I was at a friend’s house in middle school and their parents were home. We could leave for visiting hours, but had to be back in three hours for curfew, so we grabbed lunch nearby.

As we were eating, my friend seemed in really good spirits. I hadn’t seen her this happy in a while. She told me about her peers and how they’re in there for much scarier stuff. And how it sucks she could never date anyone there, even the token cute guy, because she knows WAY too much about everyone. She seemed really excited to come back.

As I dropped her off after eating our weight in seafood and ice cream, I realized it wasn’t that scary. There really wasn’t anything to be nervous about. I stopped thinking about it as rehab and instead treated it with the way it felt: visiting my friend who was staying out of town, chaperoned.

My friend is now home and doing great. Of course, every rehab story is different. And I guess there aren’t any lists about what to expect when your friend goes away because every experience is different. But the one thing you can do is be supportive. You can’t make a friend go to rehab. That decision has to come from within. All you can do is be there for them like they were there for you when you were going through that nasty breakup. So to answer your question: No, visiting my friend in rehab was nothing like I imagined.

Image courtesy of HBO

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